Biology and Biotech

When people start to use a newly developed scientific technique it is put through the ringer. That is the nature of science. So, it was not unexpected when a paper was published recently regarding the hitherto seemingly infallible CRISPR-Cas9 technique.  

The recent publication in Nature Methods entitled "Unexpected mutation after CRISPR-Cas9 editing in vivo" claimed that using the CRISPR-Cas9 technique may cause unexpected mutations to occur, resulting in a collective 'gasp' from the scientific community.

But the discovers of CRISPR-Cas9 did not come to play, especially not when the stock value of their companies dipped significantly due to the publication. They are not taking criticism of their technique lightly, and both companies that are based on the...

Whenever something appalling is said or done by Andrew Wakefield and his supporters, which is all too frequently, I am compelled to point out that 1) there is no scientific evidence supporting their far-fetched idea that vaccines cause autism and 2) their support of the anti-vaxx movement is hurting and even killing children.

Indeed, just last week I wrote about my revulsion over the fact that the movie 'VAXXED: From Cover-up to Catastrophe' was being shown at the Cannes Film Festival. 

But, this week is different. This week - I get a break. I get the chance to write about Dr. Lance O'Sullivan - a physician who not only finds the anti-...

If you're a fan of your new, wearable fitness tracker, it must be reassuring to glance down at your wrist and see your heart rate measurement as you start your run. And as the numbers climb, there's gratification knowing that your heart is pumping – and your calorie burn is underway.

For purchasers of these cutting-edge products, real-time feedback on personal, physiological changes in your own body is thrilling to witness. That's a big reason why fitness trackers comprise a hot and growing market, with worldwide expected sales this year to reach 44.1 million units.  

OK now, while having this newfound access to your personal health data is exciting and empowering, there's just...

Vitamin-A deficiency around the world leads to between 250,000 and 500,000 children going blind – every single year. Half of them die within a year of losing their sight. And several other health problems stem from this urgent issue.

Yet, a solution to this global health threat is available today, and it could quickly help 250 million preschool children around the world who are vitamin-A deficient, as estimated by the World Health Organization

That said, exactly how many countries today are growing "Golden Rice" – a genetically-modified seed with three genes that produce beta-carotene, a vitamin-A precursor – to assist their underfed and vulnerable populations?

Zero.

Yes, it's difficult to fathom,...

When we order food at a restaurant or buy it from a grocery store, we expect that we are getting what is listed on the menu or label. But a growing body of evidence suggests that simply isn't the case.

A scandal in the UK broke out when it was discovered that some beef had been replaced by horse meat. Hot dogs in Malaysia may contain unexpected things, like buffalo meat. Cheese classified as Parmigiano-Reggiano is possibly fraudulent. In fact, food fraud appears to be a particular problem in the seafood industry, where cheap fish is regularly substituted for...

One final observation on our great post-war successes in controlling malaria by targeting its vector, the Anopheles mosquito. By using that most marvelous insecticide DDT, we were beginning to gain the upper hand in our conquest of malaria as clearly demonstrated in the table below.

...

Country

Malaria occurrence per annum prior to introduction of DDT

Malaria occurrence per annum after the introduction of DDT

Sardinia

Immunology studies how we maintain our body’s integrity. When one thinks of immunology, it is the mechanisms of our defense that first come to mind. White blood cells converging on bacteria, antibodies identifying a biological threat. But hidden within these mechanisms is “immunity’s central motif,” our definition of self and other. I think every parent has a moment when speaking with their child, that they begin channeling their parents. Why am I hearing my father’s words and tone as I counsel or console my son? How did my father come to reside within my ‘self?’ What boundary conditions separate us from other? Why, does it feel at times so clear-cut and others so amorphous? Differentiating self from other has many scales, not just immunology or my internalized parent’s voices. Self...

For athletes and others who exercise, glucose is the key energy source that powers their activity. Since it's what makes them go – and keeps them going – maintaining proper levels are essential to achieving the desired performance.

Glucose and fat are essential to powering muscles. But glucose is the only energy source that fuels the brain and sustains motivation to keep going. "Hitting the wall," the common term used among athletes who realize that they can go no further, is a result of the brain having no more glucose to draw upon.

Therefore, scientists believe, if the depletion of glucose in the brain could be reduced or slowed, running into "the wall" could be theoretically be delayed. In practical terms, that would translate into pushing it back long enough to...

Causes of obesity are not as simple as a lack of exercise or overindulging. It has been known for some time that a predisposition for obesity has been linked to certain genes, however, specific mechanisms have been more difficult to elucidate. 

Some changes in our DNA, called mutations, alter the sequence of the bases in our DNA which can result in changing a trait or a disease. Other changes in our DNA - epigenetic changes (changes to our DNA that do not have to do with the sequence of bases) - can lead to the same result without the DNA sequence being changed. In this process, DNA gets marked with epigenetic 'tags' that can make the DNA alter its conformation. The result is that genes are expressed more or less which has an effect on the amount of proteins that they produce...

Judging from our readers' strong response to a recent article on why pancreatic cancer kills so quickly, we thought we'd turn our attention to another form of fast-acting cancer and what takes place at the cellular level.

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, claims between 9,000-10,000 American lives annually. And a primary reason it does is that, like in the pancreas, its cancer cells swiftly coalesce into tumors. Another important reason: like pancreatic cancer, early diagnosis often eludes its victims, of which there are many thousand in the U.S. each year.

However, we might soon see progress in defending against both of these killers.

That's...